SportF1When Lauda made the 'Prost, champion' posters useless

When Lauda made the 'Prost, champion' posters useless

Lauda’s third Formula 1 title was one of the most incredible in the championship’s history, and was settled with the smallest margin, just half a point.

Eight times the battle for the drivers’ crown has been decided by a single point: 1958, 1961, 1964, 1976, 1981, 1994, 2007 and 2008, but only once has it been decided by less.

One could argue that the 2008 battle between Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa was closer, in the sense that Massa crossed the finish line of the Brazilian Grand Prix as ‘champion’, before Hamilton took it from him with an overtake on the last breath on Timo Glock moments later.

But in the statistical sense, nothing is tighter than the 1984 rivalry between Niki Lauda and Alain Prost.

Theirs was a classic “young driver versus old master” dynamic as McLaren teammates. Lauda had been in the ointment many times before: he won the championship for Ferrari in 1975, came back from the dead in ’76 to win again in ’77, retiring entirely after two troubled years at Brabham . But he came back for two years with McLaren and proved he could win again.

Prost, six years Lauda’s junior, returned to the team with which he began his F1 career in 1980, after a successful but bitter season at Renault. Prost lost his momentum late in ’83, after narrowly losing the championship to Nelson Piquet. McLaren incumbent John Watson failed to reach an agreement with Ron Dennis to extend his contract to a sixth year, so Prost took the seat with the support of McLaren main sponsor Marlboro.

Ron Dennis,  McLaren-Ford Cosworth, con Niki Lauda y John Watson

Ron Dennis, McLaren-Ford Cosworth, con Niki Lauda y John Watson

Lauda would have preferred McLaren to keep Watson, “in my own interest”, because he knew the ’84 MP4/2 would be a serious contender after leaving behind the Cosworth DFV engine for the more powerful TAG/Porsche turbos developed specifically for McLaren and since underway for the last four races of ’83. Lauda felt he had the measure of Watson as a driver; Prost was a stranger to him, but competitive instincts told Lauda that things would be fine.

“Right now, I said ‘no problem’ because he’s [just] a racing driver and we’re going to get over him,” Lauda said in an interview with Autosport . “This was my attitude. I didn’t know him before, so I said ‘well, new rivalry is always good.’

But Lauda was surprised when Prost edged him out by more than half a second in first qualifying in Brazil. To make matters worse, Prost cruised to a comfortable victory when Lauda retired with electrical problems.

Indeed, the Austrian struggled to qualify ahead of Prost on an ongoing basis. Only once, mid-season in Dallas, has Lauda qualified ahead of his French rival – by 16 attempts – and failed to come within 1.2 seconds of Prost in any grand prix that year except three times.

“What I hated at the time was 600 hp for racing and 1,200 for qualifying,” explains Lauda. “I didn’t like this system. It was stupid from my point of view. Suddenly you have twice the power, with qualifying tires, and you take risks like there is no tomorrow: you brake late, the speed was higher, you go to the limit. I didn’t like the system, the principle of it, not the driving part.”

Alain Prost, McLaren MP4-2 TAG, y Niki Lauda, McLaren MP4-2 TAG

Alain Prost, McLaren MP4-2 TAG, and Niki Lauda, McLaren MP4-2 TAG

Prost’s increased experience with the intricacies of turbo engines after his stint at Renault gave him a distinct advantage over the old master. Lauda quickly realized that he couldn’t match Prost on pure pace, so he decided to focus exclusively on trying to outrun his teammate.

“I will never forget what happened in Brazil, the first race. Prost crushed me in qualifying, which I didn’t like,” recalled Lauda. “I retired because of an engine problem, or whatever, so I went back to the hotel. When I walked into the hotel lobby, I saw on TV that Prost won the race, so I said ‘don’t fuck with me, it’s a bad beginning!”.

“I thought, ‘Now I have to be careful, the other guy is competitive.’ I went to the next race [in South Africa] thinking that little Frenchman wasn’t going to blow my mind, [but] I could never beat him for one lap, which which really pissed me off like you can’t imagine. You have to be the fastest to win the race.”

“Then I said, ‘Okay, immediately change the philosophy, now use Friday and Saturday just to prepare the car for the race: tires, balance, everything.

Prost had three pole positions throughout the year; Lauda never got past third place on the grid. It seems extraordinary now to conceive of a driver winning the F1 world championship without ever starting on the front row.

Niki Lauda, McLaren TAG Porsche, Patrick Tambay, Renault, Nigel Mansell, Lotus Renault

Niki Lauda, McLaren TAG Porsche, Patrick Tambay, Renault, Nigel Mansell, Lotus Renault

“I had to beat it by being smart, working with race preparation and not qualifying. I never worked for pole position again. I just worked for the race. This was the decision that I won the championship for.”

That philosophy paid off, given that Lauda took two wins from the first eight races of the season. But in both, (South Africa and France) Prost suffered problems that weighed him down. A fuel pump failure forced the Frenchman to start from the pits at Kyalami (he finished second), and a loose wheel forced him to pit twice in France and meant he finished outside the points.

When Lauda beat Prost in Canada , he did so with the help of engine problems for the Frenchman. Even with a specific focus focused on the race, Lauda wasn’t really beating Prost as such, and to deepen his discomfort, by not finishing in Brazil (electric), Belgium (where both McLarens dropped out), Imola (engine) and Detroit (electricity again), as well as spinning in the famous half-point wet race in Monaco, and retiring on the wall in Dallas, meant that Lauda led Prost by 11.5 points as the season entered its second half. .

But a run of two wins (Brands Hatch and his home race in Austria) in the next three races, coupled with a tight second place from Prost in Germany, gave Lauda wings. Prost suffered a gearbox failure while leading the British GP and started second in Austria, where Lauda took the lead from Piquet’s Brabham and held on to win despite losing fourth gear in the closing stages.

Lauda took over the championship lead all the way after that race. Prost closed to within half a point by beating Lauda at Zandvoort, but a crucial victory for Lauda at Monza (with a loose disc!), following Prost’s engine failure, left the Austrian in command with just two races remaining. .

Niki Lauda, McLaren MP4 TAG Porsche

Niki Lauda, McLaren MP4 TAG Porsche

A silly mistake attempting to lap Mauro Baldi during the European GP at the Nurburgring consigned Lauda to fourth while Prost won for the third time in five races, so they headed to the season finale in Portugal separately. for only 3.5 points. But this is where Lauda’s extra experience, along with a bit of good luck, completed the play.

“When you have a battle with your own teammate, you watch him, so you use whatever game you can to understand what he’s doing,” says Lauda. “Because the worst thing for a driver is if the same guy in the same team is fighting for the championship. If it’s someone else, no problem. If both cars are the same, then there’s not much you can do.

“When I entered the race, I put on my helmet and said to myself, ‘If I make a mistake today, overtaking the others and touching them and breaking the wing or whatever, I’m going to kill myself.’ It was my ambition: keep your head down and don’t make any fucking mistakes.”

“Nelson was my so-called friend, and before the race he said to me, ‘I’m going to help you.’ ‘What are you going to do?’ ‘If I go near Prost, I’ll kick him out.’ He was serious!”

Start: Keke Rosberg, Williams leads

Keke Rosberg, Williams, leads off the start

“It was really positive that someone told me this. I had a friend there, he was going to help me. He’s a good guy. I trusted him. First lap, and the idiot got out! I saw him in the grass and I said ‘look This asshole! The only one who’s going to help me has left!’ I was very pissed off.”

Prost won the race, which is all he could do under the circumstances. Lauda, ​​who spun in qualifying and required two engine changes before the race, climbed back to third place, surviving a collision with Stefan Johansson’s Toleman as they battled for fourth place. Lauda needed to finish second to win the title, but Nigel Mansell ‘s Lotus was almost 30 seconds behind and not closing in on him.

“On lap two, a stone damaged my left turbocharger,” explains Lauda. “I pressed boost but the car wasn’t working. It was a tough battle. I was 11th or 12th on the grid and it was easy for me to pass everyone and get away. So I was stuck in traffic for a long time because I couldn’t overtake where you normally can.”

“If my engine had worked, I would have passed straight through, but it didn’t work and so in the end, thank God, Mansell had a problem and I was able to finish second.”

Mansell dropped out with 18 laps to go due to a brake problem, promoting Lauda to second and giving him the two crucial extra points he needed to add his third world championship by half a point to Prost.

“Before the race, one of the Marlboro people said to me ‘They printed the Marlboro signs with Prost champion.’ They did it before the race. I said to myself ‘now this asshole is not going to win the championship! ‘ And the first thing I did after I finished, was go see that guy…”

-Show me your poster

-What poster?

-Show me your poster!

-I don’t have any poster!

-Don’t lie, don’t lie!

“He didn’t show it to me, but he knew what he was looking for. To be fair, when I saw Prost next to me [on the podium] half crying and upset, I said ‘don’t worry, next year might be your time.’ competitors, but we didn’t hate each other, it wasn’t like Rosberg and Hamilton. We respected each other, we liked each other, so I hugged him.”

Lauda’s words were prophetic. The following year Prost was champion and Lauda retired permanently.

All Niki Lauda’s cars in F1

1971: March-Ford 711

1971: March-Ford 711

1 /

Photo by: LAT Images

1972: March-Ford 721X

1972: March-Ford 721X


Foto de: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch

1973: BRM P160E

1973: BRM P160E

3 / 13

Photo from: LAT Images

1974: Ferrari 312B3

1974: Ferrari 312B3

4 / 13

Photo de: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch

1975: Ferrari 312T

1975: Ferrari 312T

5 / 13

Photo by: LAT Images

1976: Ferrari 312T2

1976: Ferrari 312T2

6 / 13

Photo de: LAT Images

1977: Ferrari 312T2

1977: Ferrari 312T2

7 / 13

Photo de: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch

1978: Brabham Alfa Romeo BT46

1978: Brabham-Alfa-Romeo BT46

8 / 13

Photo de: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch

1979: Brabham Alfa Romeo BT48

1979: Brabham-Alfa-Romeo BT48

9/13 _

Photo de: Sutton Motorsport Images

1982: McLaren-Ford MP4-1B

1982: McLaren-Ford MP4-1B


Foto de: Sutton Motorsport Images

1983: McLaren-Porsche MP4-1E

1983: McLaren-Porsche MP4-1E

11 / 13

Photo by: Sutton Motorsport Images

1984: McLaren-Porsche MP4-2

1984: McLaren-Porsche MP4-2

12 / 13

Photo by: LAT Images

1985: McLaren-Porsche MP4-2B

1985: McLaren-Porsche MP4-2B

13 / 13

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch

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